The Maneater

Column: Negative Trump coverage represents reality, not bias or falsehood

Balancing coverage for balance’s sake would be unfair and contrary to journalism’s truth-telling purpose.

Last Wednesday, I received an angry tweet from someone regarding my column from last week. The person accused me of completely ignoring Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s tendency to pander to racial minorities — which in fact I addressed in the column — and called me a racist for writing negative things about Republican nominee Donald Trump.

To try to prove a point, the person tweeted, “Here is some HONEST journalism about Trump!” with links to news articles that reported Trump doing nice things for people of color. I don’t doubt that Trump gifted $10,000 to a bus driver who saved a suicidal person’s life in 2013, or that he let singer Jennifer Hudson live at his hotel for free after three of her relatives were killed in 2008. However, those stories have nothing to do with Trump’s presidential campaign, and two generous actions toward people of color don’t excuse Trump’s abundance of hurtful ones.

More importantly, this aggressive tweeter is far from the only person I’ve seen assert that all negative Trump coverage must be false. Trump himself has said multiple times that the “dishonest media” spreads untrue information about him via exaggeration, misinterpretation or flat-out lies, and his supporters ardently believe that.

Part of the Trump camp’s argument for the so-called dishonesty of the media is the fact that Trump consistently receives more negative coverage and fact checking than Clinton does. This is true, but a fact-checker from the Cleveland Plain Dealer explained it well: “We are committed to equal treatment of everyone we cover. But we don't define that to mean treating everyone as though they were identical. We aim to give all candidates the coverage they deserve, based upon their records and their behavior.”

Trump receives more negative coverage because he says and does more negative things, and he gets fact-checked more often than Clinton because he says many more untrue things than she does. Similarly, I discussed Trump’s pandering attempts in my column much more than Clinton’s because his outnumber hers. It’s a representation of reality, not an expression of bias in Clinton’s favor. Balancing coverage for balance’s sake would be unfair and contrary to journalism’s truth-telling purpose.

Trump supporters, like Trump himself, continuously display an aversion to the truth. On several occasions when Trump supporters or campaign spokespeople have talked to news anchors about something less than stellar that Trump has said or done, they have become defensive and tried to twist his behavior into something it isn't or say it never happened. In August, one Trump supporter, when faced with the fact that Trump is losing to Clinton in the polls, literally asked a CNN anchor twice, “Says who?”

The psychological term for this behavior is confirmation bias, defined as “a tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one's preconceptions” and reject everything that doesn’t match them. A 2006 study shows that trying to correct inaccuracies only makes people believe them more stubbornly. While confirmation bias is fairly common and nothing new, it’s still highly problematic. What purpose does a truthful, unbiased media serve if the populace only hears what it wants to hear and ignores facts?

Like I said two weeks ago, we need to stop making judgments and listen instead of attacking each other, but that can’t happen if we aren’t willing to open our minds to challenges and deal with reality no matter how unpleasant it is. There’s a saying that goes, “A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.”

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